When it comes to prospects entering the NFL Draft with some character concerns, the belief is that the Pittsburgh Steelers usually take them off of their board.
That isn’t always the case. Names like Martavis Bryant, Isaiah Buggs, Alameda Ta’amu and Chris Rainey certainly ring some bells as character-concern guys that the Steelers ultimately drafted in the last decade.
Entering the 2023 NFL Draft later this week, Georgia’s Jalen Carter, Tennessee’s Jeremy Banks, and even Ohio State’s Dawand Jones are players that have some character concerns for off- and on-field transgressions, which have been talked about by the national media throughout the pre-draft process.
For the Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin though, it’s not a black and white discussion, with players and character concerns off the Steelers’ board entirely. Instead, it’s a case-by-case discussion for the decision makers in the Steelers’ front office.
“When there’s character questions, we simply do the work, and doing the work is boots on the ground, relationships in their town and getting information about their day-to-day from people in those environments,” Tomlin stated to reporters Monday, according to video via the Steelers’ official YouTube page. “It’s about interviewing them and talking to them about their past and what they learned, and the steps they’ve taken in an effort to improve. It’s professional research, private investigation.
“We utilize all the tools at our disposal to gain enough information to take an appropriate position on subjects such as that. And at the end of the day, we make a Steeler decision, and we go with it. What the tipping point is in terms of taking someone off the board or leaving someone on the board, those are not black and white discussions. Those are handled on an individual basis, based on the information that we gather, and the amount of that information.”
For a guy like Carter, whom the Steelers have been connected to during the pre-draft process, there is certainly serious work that needed to occur behind the scenes.
Carter has been viewed as one of the draft’s top prospects since the fall. A dominant big man in the middle, regarded as the best player on some great Bulldogs fronts, regarded as a better player than No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker last season, Carter racked up seven tackles for a loss and three sacks in 2022. They’re not numbers that jump off the page but with so much talent throughout the defense, rarely did one Bulldog player dominant the stat sheet. Carter’s impact went beyond the box score with plus-athleticism and ability to ragdoll and toss aside opposing offensive linemen.
His pre-draft process has been shaky though, filled with red flags. There was an arrest warrant served during the week of the Combine that alleged he was racing another vehicle that contributed to a car accident that resulted in the death of a Georgia player and football staffer. Carter has pled no contest. His Pro Day workout was panned after Carter was unable to finish drills, cramping up and leaving early. He also gained nine pounds between the Combine and the Pro Day.
The tape doesn’t lie about Carter, but the concerns off the field are real. That doesn’t mean he’s off the Steelers’ board though.
Same for guys like Banks — who met with the Steelers at the Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas — or even a guy like Jones, who didn’t weigh or do a single thing at the Pro Day despite a number of coaches being there to see him work out.
There’s a due diligence that the Steelers do with all players, and red flags or concerns don’t mean the guy is off the board entirely, depending on what those concerns are. It can’t be black and white, and it isn’t as all situations are unique. It was good to hear Tomlin’s perspective on those situations and how the Steelers handle them internally.